When 18-year-old Stephen Hamer spoke at his graduation from Highland High School in Anderson, his battle with Ewing’s sarcoma was near its end. Still, his spirit was stronger than ever. “When I got the news I probably wouldn’t live more than a year,” the honors student told his classmates, “I decided to live every day to its fullest.”
Now, more than 11 years after Stephen’s death, his father Tom Hamer is still hearing stories of how his son’s bright spirit impacted others: how he reached out to welcome a new kid at school; how he quietly tutored students with disabilities; how he would drive his convertible with the top down on chilly autumn days. “He learned to squeeze every bit out of a 24-hour day,” says Tom.
After his cancer diagnosis at age 15, Stephen proudly shared his Riley story to raise support for the hospital and other non-profit organizations. He was a member of Rotary Interact, a board member for his local branch of the American Cancer Society and the Madison Community School Foundation. He was a National Honor Society member, active with his church youth group and a member of the Youth Leadership Academy of Madison County. Stephen’s work in the community earned a series of leadership awards including the American Youth Character Award and the Youth Leadership Academy Servant Leadership Award. “He was incredible,” says Tom. He recalls many examples of Stephen’s strength, including how he insisted on walking the entire golf course with his high school teammates even when his cancer came back a second time and invaded his lungs. “He didn’t complain. We lost a good one when we lost him.”
Stephen’s older brother, Scott Hamer, especially admired his brother’s enthusiasm for life and his compassion. “Stephen had an uncommon ability to put others before himself and see the best in others even when the circumstances in his own life were less than ideal,” explains Scott.
A friend from high school, Brytni Hessler, describes Stephen as a “walking, talking inspiration to all who knew him.” She says the lessons Stephen taught their entire class are still very much alive. “He made our whole class look at how we live our lives and made us realize how precious life and dreams were,” says Brytni. “I know that he lives in all of us still and made us the people we are today. He was someone worth knowing and never forgetting.”
Driven by a desire to help save lives while honoring his son’s memory, Stephen’s father Tom made a generous gift to pediatric cancer research at Riley Hospital. The new stem cell transplant unit in the Simon Family Tower will soon bear Stephen’s name. “No child should get cancer,” says Tom. “We’ve got to keep pushing ahead. I want to do my part to support pediatric research so that someday they will be able to say, ‘We found it. We have a cure.’” His son Scott shares that commitment to research: “Having personally suffered through the loss of a loved one to pediatric cancer, I passionately support cancer research and our quest to find a cure for this disease so no one shall ever have to endure the atrocities it causes or the pain inflected on a patient’s loved ones.”
The Hamer family says having Stephen’s name linked with Riley Hospital is a meaningful way to recognize everything he gave to the community, and all that Riley does to help children. “Riley Hospital was a special place for Stephen and our family,” explains Scott. “We found hope and love there.”